PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Ernest Charette of Fort Kent showed up at Northern Maine Community College late last week, he thought that he was only there to be inducted into the college’s Northern Maine Construction Hall of Fame. A natural storyteller, he had told his family for decades how he returned to night school in the mid-1930s to complete his high school degree, but he never physically received the diploma because the certificates were lost when, the night before the graduation ceremony, Charette’s instructor died suddenly of a heart attack.
So it was poignant for everyone when, just after he was inducted into the hall of fame, Charette was presented with an honorary diploma from Fort Kent Community High School by the SAD 27 director of adult and community education.
“I’m ready to cry,” said the 94-year-old highly respected master craftsman, who retired just two years ago, when he received his diploma. “I never expected this.”
Paula Carson-Charette is Ernest Charette’s daughter-in-law. She nominated her father-in-law for the NMCC award, and she also contacted officials in SAD 27 late this summer about the possibility of an honorary diploma. She hoped to combine the two honors into one ceremony.
Close to 30 people came to the campus to celebrate Charette, who worked for more than seven decades in the building materials trade.
In 1946, after working for 11 years for M.J. Pelletier, a building material and funeral business, he started Charette Building Inc., a working shop and building materials store. A year later, he married his wife, Egline, and the couple spent the next three decades running the business and raising five children, all of whom remain in the St. John Valley.
Charette is credited with building a number of homes in the St. John Valley, as well as the bridge over Michaud Brook in Soldier Pond. He also designed and built the first and only private water system in Fort Kent that gravity-fed water to a number of homes on Highland Avenue in Fort Kent.
Established in the fall of 2007 on the NMCC campus, the Northern Maine Construction Hall of Fame was created to recognize individuals who have both contributed to the profession and served as mentors to others entering the profession.
Paul Ouellette, a friend of the Charette family’s, spoke at the ceremony. He said that he grew up next to Charette Building Inc. and said that the 94-year-old was a “great role model and friend.”
“He was never boastful of his talents, and several carpenters solved their own construction problems by coming to Ernie,” he pointed out. “This is a great honor, and you are a great man.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud also offered Charette congratulations in written remarks that were read at the ceremony. He thanked him for his “years of service to northern Maine, Aroostook County and the St. John Valley.”
“You have made construction your vocation, not just your job,” Michaud said.
Charette has been heavily involved in his community, donating time and materials to projects, spending decades teaching people to ice skate, a sport that he enjoyed until he was 78.
The entire Charette family helped Ernest Charette unveil his hall of fame photo. After that, he was surprised with the high school diploma.
Charette said he was unable to complete his high school requirements as a teenager, so he finished by taking night school courses to earn the diploma in the mid-1930s. There were 15 students in his class, and their instructor died of a heart attack the night before she was to award the students their diplomas. The instructor lived in Edmundston, New Brunswick, and had the diplomas in her possession — and they were never presented to the students.
“I am glad and happy to be here,” Charette said as he clutched his diploma and spoke about being the newest inductee into the hall of fame. “This is something you can’t buy. You have to earn it, and according to what I’ve heard, I must deserve it because here I am.”
Charette credited his wife and family with being his major source of support over the years.
“My family is why I am still here today,” he said. “It is so nice to have a family you can depend on. My children are always here for my wife and I. This is such an honor, and I am so happy.”